Continuing their House cleaning, Republican leaders announced plans Tuesday to end public funding for the Congressional Black Caucus and more than two dozen other research and policy groups that they said are a waste of taxpayer money.
The decision--which must be approved in January by the House Oversight Committee, formerly the House Administration Committee--would effectively eliminate 28 congressional support organizations, including the Hispanic Caucus, the Women's Issues Caucus and the Democratic Study Group. For many years the Democratic Study Group was the main research and policy arm of the Democratic majority in the House.
Announcing the plans, approved at a meeting of House Republicans, incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said that eliminating public funding for Capitol Hill's legislative service organizations, as the support groups are known, will save the taxpayers more than $5 million a year.
"This is a sweeping and extraordinary change . . . (that) begins the process of voting to shrink the size of Congress," Gingrich said.
The service organizations were paid for by members who reallocated a portion of the public money they receive to run their congressional offices. The Republicans plan to end that practice.
But unless they also announce plans to curtail the funds for running congressional offices, a step they have not taken, the money that in past years had been spent for the service organizations will still be available to Congress for other uses.
Democrats immediately cried foul. They portrayed the move as another in a series of efforts by the incoming GOP leadership to control the flow of information in the new Congress and to concentrate power in the House in Gingrich's hands.
"One of the inherent strengths of this place has been the ability of members to share their resources for the purposes of research . . . and this is clearly just another attempt to preempt dissent by centralizing all information under the leadership," said Rep. Martin Olav Sabo (D-Minn.), a former chairman of the Democratic Study Group.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who heads the women's caucus, added that the GOP leaders are trying to enact "a new gag rule for American women by seeking to silence the members of Congress who work in their behalf."
"We are, I think, wise enough and capable of raising the money that is necessary to keep this organization (the Black Caucus) going and I think that's what we're going to have to do," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said in Los Angeles.
Gingrich and other Republicans countered by noting that the proposal would affect their party's research groups as well. And they cited a long list of financial irregularities suggesting that some of the caucuses were being run without the oversight and auditing safeguards that apply to members' offices, committees and other congressional institutions funded by taxpayer monies.
Over the last 10 years, $35 million in taxpayer funding has been used to support the service organizations, but a recent review of their spending showed that there had been no accounting for $7.7 million, according to Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
The questionable spending included thousands of dollars for entertainment and gifts, $981.96 for a New Year's holiday trip to the Virgin Islands by the staff of the Territorial Caucus and what Roberts said was more than $20,000 in "tips" by the California Democratic Caucus.
Under the GOP resolution, adopted with heavy support from incoming Republican freshmen, the service organizations technically could continue to exist, but only if they are funded directly by their members and not by a reallocation of money from congressional office operations.
Democrats, however, said that such reallocations represented a cost-savings measure that permitted members to hire fewer staff researchers by pooling their funds and sharing the costs of policy research and analysis.
The Republicans "are trying to silence the voices of people who already have limited representation," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), a member of the Hispanic Caucus.
Roberts, a longtime critic of the service organizations, denied a partisan motive in the move, which he and other Republicans characterized as part of the GOP effort to downsize Congress. The House Republicans already have promised to cut the size of committee staffs by one-third and Senate Republicans said Tuesday that they plan to reduce the size of their committee staffs by at least 20% next year.
Times staff writer Lucille Renwick contributed to this story.